DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s president on Monday appointed a new official to take over the post of secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, replacing the longtime powerful official Ali Shamkhani after he became implicated in a recent spy scandal.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi issued a decree replacing Shamkhani, who has faced persistent corruption allegations — which he denied — as well as scrutiny because of close ties with a British-Iranian man hanged on spying charges earlier this year in Iran.
Shamkhani was a key player in negotiations with the West over Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, as well as years of tensions that followed then-US president Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw America from the accord.
The decree, reported by the state-run IRNA news agency, offered no explanation for the change. In a message on Twitter on Sunday night, as rumors about his position circulated, Shamkhani cryptically posted a verse by the 14th century Persian poet Mohtasham Kashani.
His replacement, a Revolutionary Guard figure, will take over as Iran faces continued economic pressure from Western sanctions, challenges following months-long protests over the death of Mahsa Amini — who died while in custody of Iran’s morality police — and a recent de-escalation with Iran’s Gulf Arab neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia.
Shamkhani had served in the position for just under a decade. He wasn’t the longest-serving secretary of the council, which is the highest-level body to deal with security matters under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Former president Hassan Rouhani served in the same capacity for 15 years before taking office.
However, Shamkhani was believed to have the trust of politicians across Iran’s theocracy and Khamenei. Shamkhani had been key in negotiations with Gulf Arab states as they sought to de-escalate tensions with Tehran, including being on hand for the announced détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia reached in China.
But Shamkhani increasingly faced criticism from within the theocracy. Purported minutes leaked earlier this year of a meeting between Shamkhani and ranking Revolutionary Guard officials rekindled corruption accusations against him, including over real estate and shipping deals tied to his family. Shamkhani publicly denied all allegations he faced.
In January, Iran hanged British-Iranian Ali Reza Akbari, a close ally of Shamkhani, on spying charges. An audio message from Akbari aired by the BBC’s Persian service included him saying he was accused of obtaining top-secret information from Shamkhani “in exchange for a bottle of perfume and a shirt.”
According to a New York Times report earlier this month, the UK passed on information from Akbari to Israel about Iran’s nuclear activities at the Fordo site, information not previously known to Western intelligence officials.
Akbari also reportedly turned over the names of around 100 senior Iranian officials to British authorities, including that of Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was killed in November 2020 in an attack that Tehran blames on Israel.
Shamkhani was an urban guerrilla during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and commanded several successful military operations during Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s as well.
Shamkhani’s replacement will be Ali Akbar Ahmadian, the former chief of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard’s strategic center.
A biography of Ahmadian, 62, published on Monday by the semiofficial Fars news agency said he served as commander of the Guard’s navy and the chief of the Guard’s joint staff.
He is also on the country’s Expediency Council, which advises the supreme leader, as well as settles disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council which acts as Iran’s constitutional watchdog overseeing the country’s elections.
Fars described Ahmadian as a “trenchmate” of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of the IRGC’s overseas Quds Forces who was killed in a US drone strike in 2020 and remains a national icon among supporters of Iran’s theocracy.